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regular-article-logo Friday, 31 May 2024

A 7-year-old girl is the lone serious casualty of Iran’s barrage

While Israel suffered little in the way of significant damage overnight, this one family was dealt a devastating blow

Cassandra Vinograd, Natan Odenheimer Published 15.04.24, 11:54 AM
Holes in the roof and floor at the home of Amina al-Hasoni, a 7-year-old girl who was injured by missile shrapnel outside Arad, Israel, on Sunday, April 14, 2024. The girl, who lives in a Negev desert community that is home to Arab Bedouins, was clinging to life in a hospital after the attack.

Holes in the roof and floor at the home of Amina al-Hasoni, a 7-year-old girl who was injured by missile shrapnel outside Arad, Israel, on Sunday, April 14, 2024. The girl, who lives in a Negev desert community that is home to Arab Bedouins, was clinging to life in a hospital after the attack. (Sergey Ponomarev/The New York Times)

The hospital waiting room was quiet Sunday: There was no crowd of relatives, no flood of patients. Israel’s air defenses had just fended off a large-scale Iranian attack, with only one serious casualty recorded.

But there was no sense that a crisis had been averted outside the pediatric intensive care unit at Soroka Medical Center in southern Israel’s city of Beersheba. Instead, tension filled the air until the doors to the ward swung open and a gasping mother stumbled out, her face contorted. Then raw emotion quickly took its place as she crumbled into a chair, crying.

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While Israel suffered little in the way of significant damage overnight, this one family was dealt a devastating blow. Amina al-Hasoni, 7, was clinging to life — the sole serious casualty of the Iranian barrage. And were it not for systemic inequities in Israel, her relatives said, maybe she too could have been spared.

There are roughly 300,000 Arab Bedouins in the Negev desert. About one-quarter of them live in villages that are not recognized by Israeli officials. Without state recognition, those communities have long suffered from a lack of planning and basic services including running water, sewers and electricity. And few have access to bomb shelters, despite repeated requests to the state.

The Hasoni family lives in one such community, sharing a hilltop in the Negev village of al-Fur’ah with a plot of disconnected houses. When rocket warning sirens went off Saturday night, Amina’s uncle Ismail said he felt stuck — there was nowhere to go.

Booms overhead signaled air defenses intercepting missiles before there was a big explosion. Then he heard a woman screaming — his sister — and “I started running,” he said.

Ismail, 38, found his sister outside her house holding Amina, who was bleeding from the head. Her family had decided to flee the rockets, running out the front door. But Amina, who slept in a back room with pink walls covered in painted butterflies, didn’t make it.

A missile fragment ripped through the home’s thin metal roof, shearing a hole with sharp metallic edges. It made impact just in front of the door — which is where Amina was knocked unconscious.

“I think it hit her while she was running away,” Ismail said.

He said he took the injured Amina from his sister and lifted the girl into his own arms. Ismail then tracked down a car that raced her toward the hospital, more than 40 minutes away on a rutted, winding road that fades out in some places, with camels crossing in others.

Only then, with Amina on her way, did he go inside the house, where he said he saw a large, black piece of shrapnel about the size of a pretzel jar. And “there was blood,” he said, a puddle that had turned into a stream across the tile floor, to the front door.

By Sunday afternoon, the orange patterned tiles had been cleaned. None of the dozen or so relatives there could say who had done it, only that “it was bad for the children to see” all the blood. But Ismail hasn’t gone back inside.

“It’s difficult,” he said, his jeans and boots still spattered with blood. Not far from where he sat, a pink Minnie Mouse blanket and a small black-and-white girl’s dress hung on a family clothesline.

“We could have built shelters here,” Ismail added.

He dismissed any suggestions that what happened to Amina was bad luck.

“It’s part of a policy,” he said. “We can’t do anything.”

The missile fragment that tore into Amina’s home was one of more than 150 collected in the area Sunday by police bomb disposal teams, and the family said officers had taken away the piece that hit their home. The teams combed the desert for hours, searching for debris and carting away huge hunks of twisted metal — efforts repeated across Israel.

The Hasoni home is not far from a military base, Nevatim, that was reportedly a target of the Iranian assault and that Israeli officials said was lightly damaged.

That is little consolation to Amina’s father, Muhammad, who spent the morning at the hospital taking turns at her bedside. He didn’t say much to her, he said, and just repeated her name.

Amina — the youngest of his 14 children — “likes to laugh and have fun all the time,” said Muhammad, 49. She’s a good student with a “strong personality,” he added, who doesn’t always listen to instructions. And she loves to draw.

He called Iran’s actions “inhumane.”

“May God demolish them,” he said, without hesitation.

The New York Times News Service

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